The 2005 football season was more than the restoration of Penn State’s on field winning ways. In a more personal way, it ushered in my current (some might say obsessive) fandom of the Nittany Lions—and no game epitomizes that more than the Orange Bowl.
I don’t remember the betting line for the game, but I do remember being quite disappointed in our ultimate opponent. The matchup was marketable—this was the eighth (and, of course, final) time that Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden would face each other on the field, but Florida State won the ACC with a paltry 8-3 record that year, while Penn State was 10-1 going into the game—and would have been undefeated were it not for a measly two seconds. In my opinion, and the opinion of many Penn Staters in attendance (and even some Seminoles), this wasn’t an even matchup and shouldn’t even be close.
Over four hours and three overtimes later, we were proven wrong.
The 2006 Orange Bowl was, for me, a special game for a number of reasons. It was my first away game experience as an adult; I’d grown up in Maryland in a Penn State family, so we’d been to a number of "games" versus the Terps before, but none when I was a proud alumnus.
This was also, since it was at an NFL stadium, the first game I consumed adult beverages during; this may be difficult to believe, given the culture on this blog and at Penn State, but, unlike any other stadium I’ve been in, I never have smuggled in alcohol to Beaver Stadium—it’s the one place I’ve never wanted to risk getting kicked out of.
The game started off painfully, boringly slow. The triplets, plus Justin King, were virtually nonexistent; running back Austin Scott was our only offense as the game started, scoring the first quarter’s only points. The second quarter was much of the same, as Michael Robinson seemed very much un-MRob-like, with incomplete pass following incomplete pass. Soon FSU was up, having scored two touchdowns on two huge plays—one on a Jeremy Kapinos punt, returned half the distance of the field, and another a 57 yard pass play. Luckily, the Noles’ ever-present (under Bowden, at least) kicking woes reared their head early, and after a very late TD catch by Ethan Kilmer, the Lions took a one point lead into half time.
The rest of regulation was even worse. Lack of scoring (an early 4th quarter safety for Penn State and a late game field goal for FSU were the half’s only scores) were only supplemented by the incessant droning of the Tomahawk Chop, and the constant reminder that this was as close to an away game as the Nittany Lions were going to have faced in bowl season.
Then Paul Posluszny went down with a knee, was carted off the field, Kevin Kelly missed a chip shot field goal that would have ended the game with 30 seconds left, and we were headed into overtime.
When booking an away game trip, dear readers, I have a few pieces of advice: if you can, get a police escort to the game with your bus (those are awesome). Go to the official PSU tailgate. And please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t book a 7 am flight out the morning after a night game, because that night game will go into triple overtime.
When the Seminoles’ kicker missed his first field goal in the first overtime (a 48-yarder), we should have been confident when true-freshman Kelly strode up to the tee—but his attempt was from 38 yards out, 9 yards longer than his just-missed attempt, and he wasn’t yet the Mr. Automatic that he’d become over the next three seasons. I turned my back, because I couldn’t watch—and it was a good thing, because Kelly’s kick went wide.
Overtime two. Scott got in the game again, and scored a touchdown for Penn State on the Lions’ first possession—only four plays into the second OT. Now, all the defense had to do was hold—not such a tall task, right?
Four plays later, and we were headed to a third overtime, and this one had a better outcome.
When we were sitting there wondering if the game would ever end, after FSU kicker Greg Cismesia’s second missed field goal, I turned my back again—and Kelly, after missing two potential game-winners earlier in the evening, made his second 29-yard attempt of the night.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been so relieved; unlike Michigan in 2013, I went into the Orange Bowl expecting victory, and anything less would have been unsatisfying. Kelly ensured that satisfaction, ultimately becoming Penn State’s all-time leading scorer and the Big Ten’s all-time kick scoring leader.